Pongal/Makar Sankranti Reflections

Very happy Pongal wishes to my Tamil friends; Makar Sankranti to the ones in North and Lohri to the one in the North west! Ankita Chobey in her article [i]in Mumbai mirror describes this as: “It is January and for Indians it is the time of the year when we mark the beginning of the season’s end – that is time to bid winter a farewell. This is also the time of the year when winter harvest festival is celebrated. Across the lengths of our country, this festival is celebrated in various ways. While some call it Makar Sankranti, some call it Pongal and some name it Lohri”. Though these celebrations are done across India in different names and different legends are associated with it two things are quite common: Mark of the end of a season and harvest festivals.

Since it is a harvest festival think along with festivities and Pujas it is also important to spend time thinking about the well being of the ones who are involved in the whole work of agriculture and harvesting them. The plight of farmers are getting worse in India which is an agrarian country with 70% of people depend on agriculture. Times of India article[ii] reported that over 12000 farmers commit suicide every year since 2013. The figures are alarming. I stay here in Uttar Pradesh where I constantly listen to issues where the farm lands are taken by land mafias for constructing flats. An article[iii] in BBC notes, “Half of its people work in farms, but farming contributes only 15% to India’s GDP. Put simply, farms employ a lot of people but produce too little”.

All of us get excited when we get fresh crops, see greenery and celebrate festivals. But mundane realities remains the same. I wonder if our economic model has done any serious favour for uplifting the poor. Rich is getting richer and the poor is getting poorer. Today as we celebrate harvest festival, can we seriously think about the ones till in the field? Think about what possible can be done for them?

As I conclude I would like to give a glimpse of some of the Agrarian themes in the Bible. Though Christians are not known to celebrate Biblical festivals, Bible mentions about atleast three harvest festivals:  the Feast of Weeks (Lev. 23:15-22, Num. 28:26-31, Deut. 16:9-12) which celebrates the early harvest and the final harvest called the Feast of Booths, Shelters, or Tabernacles; (Lev. 23:33-44, Num. 29:12-39, Deut. 16:13-16). There is also a festival which was called festival of Firstfruits which also has to do with harvest (Lev. 23:9-14, see also Exod. 23:18 and 34:26). As I finish I quote few Bible portions:

“And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil. And he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you shall eat and be full.” Deuteronomy 11:13-15

“You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth” Psalm 104:14

May the God as per His promise protect our land, give good yield, take care of the farmers and take away the ailments of farmers who got affected by Okhi and other calamities. May He change our heart to be good to be farmers and the land.

[i] https://mumbaimirror.indiatimes.com/news/india/makar-sankranti-lohri-pongal-how-india-celebrates-itswinter-harvest-festivals/articleshow/56518330.cms

[ii] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/over-12000-farmer-suicides-per-year-centre-tells-supreme-court/articleshow/58486441.cms

[iii] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-40184788

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SRI YESU JANMOTSAV BLESSINGS

Sri Yesu Janmotsav* blessings to all my readers as you remember the birth of our Lord, God and Saviour Lord Jesus Christ. As you celebrate Sri Yesu Janmotsav I think it would be appropriate for us this time to reflect on the very meaning of the name Jesus (Yesu).

Matthew chapter 1, verse 21 reads as: “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” The name Jesus is very familiar. But many do not necessarily understand the meaning the name signifies. Jesus means “He will save His people from their sins”. The problem of evil, injustice, corruption, terrorism and all are great evil our society is facing. Bible traces sin as the root of all these things. And Christ’s birth is indeed great news as it gives a new birth to the world struggling with evil, injustice, corruption, terrorism. Well, how does the birth of Jesus help the world that is struggling with the above evil. Bible promises in 2 Corinthians chapter 5 and verse 17 says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come”. Meaning that when a person accepts Jesus God implants a new nature in that person and enables him towards good work and reduces his lenience to evil. This change of heart is the secret of the name Jesus.

However I would make a word of caution here. Many people who bear a so called Christian name might live a life that does not live the message as proclaimed by the name “Jesus”. The promise in the Bible is depended on the free will of a person to accept Jesus and His teachings. This does not necessarily nullify the power of the name Jesus; rather a call to the ones who call themselves Christian or to follow Jesus to retrospect and truly accept the Saving power of Jesus and allow them to be transformed by Jesus.

May the message of Jesus and His salvation bring a new hope to the world struggling with  evil, injustice, corruption, terrorism and so on. Once again blessed Sri Yesu Janmotav greetings.

*Janmotsav– Refers to celebration of someone’s birth. This context it refers to celebration Christ’s birth.

Teaching: Trade or Calling

Teaching: Trade or Calling

Very happy teachers to all teachers.

Teachers deserve special honour. The role of teachers is a much respected one in Asian traditions. Guru (Teacher?) – Sishya (Disciple) relation is a key that we can see very much in Asian traditions. I am very happy to have studied in a university (BHU) where Dr. S. Radhakrishnan was the vice chancellors whose birthday is being celebrated all over India as Teacher’s Day.p

According to Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, a teacher “must be a committed man, committed to faith in the future of man, in the future of humanity, in the future of the country and the world.” The profession of a teacher “should not be reduced to a trade; it is a calling, a vocation, a mission.” Teachers, according to Dr. Radhakrishnan, must impart to the students “zest for new experience, love for adventure in knowledge.” Love of the pupils is therefore the first essential quality of a teacher. Teachers must try to understand their pupils – their needs, their interests, their abilities, their wishes, their attitudes and their problems (qtd. in Shivendra. K. Verma, “Radhakrisnan’s Philosophy of Education,” The University News, Vol. 28, No. 19, p.3) .

Today I had the opportunity to interact with two leading Professors in India. They were using few terms to denote teachers of today: “settlers” and “committed to national development”. One of the eminent professors was telling that even after 20 years from today india may not be able to achieve significant progress in education if the trends in education does not improve significantly. He was mentioning about a group of teachers who are settlers. According to him they are not committed to their teaching. They will be teaching for the sake of doing. He also talked about nepotism, favoritism, casteism, politics and corruption that spoil this very noble profession. They are the ones who are a real threat for Dr. Radhakrishnan’s vision of a teacher as “a committed man, committed to faith in the future of man, in the future of humanity, in the future of the country and the world”. But he has also mentioned that there are still teachers who surpass beyond the settlers category and are committed teachers.

Many nations look to India with great expectations. Only when Dr. Radhakrishnan’s vision of teacher comes true India would be able to shine and be able to grow leaps and bounds. Our nation is full of celebrations. But sadly many good themes celebrated in different festivals are thought about and put into action only for a day when it is celebrated. On August 15th we become patriotic but we forget to work for the nation after the very next day. My only wish is that the vision of teacher by Dr. Radhakrishnan will not be a good lecture to be listened on September 5th but the one which will be put into practice by all teachers all day long.

As I end this short not on teacher’s day I recollect a verse from the Bible which says “ And the LORD has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach their skills to others.” For me this verse is very encouraging as this verse talks about God’s unique help to teachers in imparting skills and knowledge.

May God bless all teachers with special skill to impart skill and knowledge!

Conversion and Ghar-vapsi: My Initial reflection

Conversion and Ghar-vapsi: My Initial reflection

We are hearing a lot of hue and cry about conversion, antI-conversion and re-conversion. The ongoing debate is that conversion should stop. If it does not stop rules will be framed or force will be used to stop conversion. Let us examine some basic truths that come out of this conversion debate.

Conversion is inevitable:

Change and conversion is inevitable. Worldundergoes change and get converted into new shape in every other second. The world we see is not the same that we saw few years back. Is it bad? Given an option, people opt for conversion. A person havinga bike converts his mode of transport to a car when he can afford for it and feels the need for a conversion. He can either hold on to a philosophy of contentment and retain biking or can have a more comfortable philosophy and can convert his mode of transport. When a person gets a responsible position in government or a political party, his whole life style gets converted. No party – even the ones against conversion are no exception. Even ordinary people who migrate from one part to another gets themselves converted to a new place’s life style. Sometimes this conversion is thrust upon, sometimes accepted willingly.

Why does one get converted:

When a person wishes to convert, he eitheris dissatisfied with the existing system or wants to adopt a new set of philosophies, life style and principles. Some may convert even for getting some benefit. But such opportunists who convert may not be very loyal to the principles, philosophizes and ideologies of the converted way of life. They may not even have problem in converting themselves again to some otherparty for some gains as and when the opportunity knocks. But willful conversion is different from forced conversion. Why do many give up their lives when they werethreatened? Why did not they compromise even when faced with severe persecution and threats?

Conversion by Hinduism:

Hindus show that Muslims and Christians are the ones who convert. When I go to some parts of tribal villages of Tamil Nadu,Andra, etc I find people worshiping gods other than Hinduism but calling them as Hindus. Their gods mostly are based on their village tradition. Mahabarata, Ramayana, Upanishads are alien stories to them. Then why do they call themselves Hindus? Did they too undergo some kind ofconversion somewhere in the history? Since we have history from the perspectiveof the influential can this conversion be ruler out?Who can claim to be original?Today we live in a globe with different religions. At one point of time in history there should have been one religion and even before that no religion. Religion as an ideology might have developed over the years. Can’t it be? Beginning of human existence should have been the origin of all. If any “ghar vapshi” should take place it should take place to respect human beings’worth and grand them their right. That is a real ghar vapsi. If we know history only from one perspective and only from a particular period of time, we should not give a call about “ghar vapsi”

More serious problems raised by conversion debate:

Willingnes to conversion also shows the need for a better alternative for the one who wishes to convert. When a conversion happens we should not ask the question “how to bring back the convert”, but introspect on a more serious question “why did they get converted?”. Instead of alleging false and superficial accusation, the losing party should think of restructuring so that it can retain. Deep questions should be asked from sociological, ideological and practical point of view.

A note on Christian conversion:

Before commenting on Christian conversion of non- Christian, let me make it very clear that a Christian can never give birth to a Christian. They give birth only to ordinary human beings. They can either choose to be Christian or not. Every new generation born in Christian families have to under go conversion.

Christians are often told that they lure people by money. But Christians empty themselves and their pockets when they see a need. Because of the love shown to them by Jesus Christ by giving Himself completely and His teaching to love everyone, charity becomes a part of Christian living. So when they find a need for hospital they will not stop from emptying their pockets for a social cause. What do you expect from a Christian? Not to respond at the time of need? By the mean time when some of those benefited by this upliftment gets to hear about this new teaching, he may wish to accept this self giving ideology. What is wrong in him? Why did the existing community wait till a Christian community empty its pocket? Why did it not think of such activities? Christianity went through different phase of reformation. Why not other religions who cry about conversion go through reformation? Why use force? Why use influence? Why politicize it?If there is weakness in you why do you want to invent a problem to hide your weakness? Why don’t you dare to change yourself? Why threaten people ?Why fight against conversion? Conversion was a part of history and it will have to be

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Commemorating Diwali as an Indian Christian

Commemorating Diwali as an Indian Christian

 “Commemorating Diwali as a Christan?”, sounds strange???

Well. As a Christian I am equally enthusiastic to commemorate the festival Diwali. I believe that every Indian Christian (or any Christian for that matter) can retrospect on these themes of the festival when their Indian Hindus friends celebrate Diwali.

I grew up in my village in Kanykumari along with my Hindu and Christian neighbours and relatives. Diwali for us was more of a social celebration than a religious one. I am privileged to live in India where I can learn and understand the perspectives of people following different religion. During every festival I try to study its background and try to relate it with Bible and grapple to find how it appeals to me as a Christian.

Today it is time for me to reflect on Diwali. There are lot of narratives revolving around Diwali. Commenting on different ways people celeberate diwali, reporter Ankit Mehara writes to international Business times,

Owing to India’s cultural diversity, the festival gets a distinct regional touch in different parts of the country. In north India, people celebrate Diwali to mark the victory of Lord Ram over demon King Ravana and his return to Ayodhya with his wife Sita and brother Lakhsman after 14 years of exile… In the south, the festival is called Deepavali and marks the defeat of demon Narakasura. During Diwali, Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi are worshipped. The festival also holds a special importance to farmers across the country. Diwali marks the end of the harvest season, which is why the farmers celebrate it1.

Swami Chidanand Saraswati ,who conceived the idea of and laying the foundation for the 11-volume Encyclopedia of Hinduism, talks about Diwali his blog 2 as:

The time of Diwali is one of the most festive and beautiful times of the year. Diwali literally means a “Row of Lights.” …It is the darkest night of the darkest period, yet it is a celebration of light! Diwali is heralded as the triumph of good over evil”.

He also mentions about some of the important themes of diwali like the celebration of light, the triumph of good over evil, of righteousness over treachery, of truth over falsehood, and of light over darkness, a fresh start and worship of Maha Lakshmi (prayer for prosperity). We can find parallel Christian theme for most of them in the Holy Bible as well.

Though I can elaborate on each theme, this year I would like to dwell on the theme of celebration of light from the Bible. I am excited to know how “celeberation of light” can be very much Christian as well. The very first book of The Holy Bible has a mention about Light:

“And God said, Let there be light, and there was light.

And God saw that the light was good”. 3

Even the Bible ends with a beautiful declaration about the light. Talking about the new heaven and earth Bible says in the last chapter:

And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever”. 4

The declaration about light by Jesus is simply incredible for me. He claimed

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” 5

I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. ” 6

 Having declared himself as the Light of the world, He gave a higher responsibility to His followers. He called them as Jagdeep (Light of the World)

“You are the light of the world.” 7

 Christians are encouraged to walk in the light

for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light ”. 8

 Yes. diwali is definitely important for me as a Christian. As my friends and neighbours light crackers, I have to introspect myself how am I reflecting Christ’s expectation of being the light of the world! Christian community should think of different ways of being light of the world in these days of darkness.

If the Christian community is the light of the world in Indian context, how is it reflecting it in politics, higher education, media, judiciary, social involvement, policy making, civil service and so on. We Christians were quite successful in being the “light of the world” in terms of proclaiming the good news of light and being light in the area of school education and providing medical facility. What about other areas??? Now its time for us to enlarge our diwali. What step we can take to be the Diwali in all spheres of life?

3Genesis 1:4

4Revelation of John 22:5

5 John 8:12

6John 12:46

7Matthew 5:14

8Ephesians 5:8